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Q&A: Sign of the Whale celebrates 35 years

Virginia Larsen, one of the owners of Sign of the Whale Antiques, is in her element at the shop Monday. Sign of the Whale is celebrating 35 years in business.
Virginia Larsen, one of the owners of Sign of the Whale Antiques, is in her element at the shop Monday. Sign of the Whale is celebrating 35 years in business.

GLEN ELLYN – Sign of the Whale Antiques, 558 Crescent Blvd., is celebrating its 35th year in operation. Virginia Larsen, one of the owners of the shop, recently discussed the store with Glen Ellyn Suburban Life reporter Evan Shields.

Shields: Is there any particular meaning behind the name of the store?

Larsen: Well, it's named after the early Wayside Inns in New England that were pubs and inns for travelers. So, "sign of the 'blank'" was common. Sign of the Sheep, Sign of the Lion, Sign of the Lamb. Since we're New England in the flavor of our stuff, that's why we picked that for a name.

Shields: Has it been difficult to stay open for 35 years?

Larsen: Well, there was a big craze for this sort of thing in the '80s and '90s. There were more collectors then, but now we still have collectors, but now we see more designers and people decorating rather than collecting. There's three of us in here. Three partners. And we're happy to say that we bought the building finally in April, we bought the whole building. So there's two other businesses in the building.

Shields: Have you been an owner for all 35 years?

Larsen: I came in in '87 and my partner (Caroline Jacobsen), she was a founder in '79. She's the only founder left. And the third partner is Barb Lemme. And she came in full-time after she retired from COD. She was a professor at COD. Mostly, we travel to find things. So we go east when we can. 

Shields: Is it mostly a New England feel to the antiques?

Larsen: We're primarily before 1890 American, folk art, Americana, Dutch. We don't carry oak, factory-made articles of the 20th century. 

Shields: Is there a particular reason why?

Larsen: Well, 1890 sort of began the beginning of – I wouldn't say industrial revolution, but that sort of movement toward mass-produced, factory-made furniture. And machine-made articles. So that's the cut-off for us. We had to pick a date, and that's kind of it.

Shields: So you go for more handmade items here?

Larsen: Yes. Handmade. A lot of people lump primitive and country together, but we really carry more of an American country and not very much primitive. Primitive is furniture sort of banged together, without any attention to cabinet making. But the country furniture makers copy the city version, and is all made with the same techniques. We don't carry formal or fancy or shiny.

Shields: What made you want to get into doing antiques?

Larsen: My husband and I were looking for a style. We didn't know what we wanted in our home. And we were invited to a friend's house and when we saw what he had, we said, "That's it!" And then that fellow started teaching us, taking us on the road, showing us what to look for and taught us for years about early American stuff. We were hooked.

Shields: Have there been any highlights over 35 years, something that's happened in the store or in the community?

Larsen: We have a very successful holiday open house second Sunday of October that is our biggest event. And people wait for it. We restock. We decorate for Christmas. It's our big highlight of the year. And we're known for holiday antiques that time of year, holiday stuff. We don't do a lot with the town. Our shop is what's called a destination shop. Our loyal customer base, they know us, and visit us frequently and they come to Glen Ellyn just for this shop. A lot of people come in and browse, but the serious people come to town and leave again. We have a website and we ship a lot around the country. Which we think is funny, because we go east to buy it and haul it back here, and then most of it, if we sell online, we ship it back east.

Shields: Anything big planned for the 35th year?

Larsen: We're celebrating 35 years, buying the building and the theme is "Our Ship Has Come In," and we're going to feature nautical items.


If you go

What: Sign of the Whale Antiques

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday; closed Wednesday and Sunday

Where: 558 Crescent Blvd.


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